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Advancing color

“Honesty,” says Malibu artist Fay Singer. That’s what art is about.

“As an artist, when I walk into a room, I recognize an artist’s work. Only they could have done that canvas, which means they are exposing themselves.” She insists we see honesty, not style or technique. “Picasso opened a lot of his soul,” she says.

Art is also about commitment. “People sometimes tell me I’m so talented. I look at them and say, ‘I really believe 10 percent is talent, 90 percent is hard work.'”

Art is also about a statement. “If you don’t have anything to say, you won’t have a good painting. You can study technique from today ’til doomsday, but you need something to say.

Describing selected of her works, which are are on exhibit at the McLean Gallery, she clearly articulates her artistic viewpoint, even though she claims her thoughts are better expressed on canvas than in words.

“I will always start from nature. Then, I move it around to reveal what my response is. The things I remember are the things that are the most important to me. This is the essence of what impressed me.” She will not work from photographs, relying instead on her visual retention.

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She stands in front of her “Still Life with Oranges.” “When I do still-life fruits, I’m really looking for the soul. I’m not trying to copy nature. God did it first, and He did it better. I’m looking for symbols, and I’m looking for the soul of the orange.”

She points to the oranges. “They’re not all equal. I was more interested in the composition and the vertical that reaches up and supports this bowl of oranges.

“Normally, a still life is in the center. I was more interested in the eye movement. You enter the painting in the lightest area and you’re pulled up into the bowl of oranges. You know the light is coming from the right, but you start moving into it from the bottom.

“The important thing in a composition is that your eye does not leave the canvas. Each area must relate to another area.”

Singer moves to her “Chateau in Provence.” “When you are in the Provence area of France, there are always those villages up on a hill, and the houses are formed around the church, and the church always has a steeple rising. I came back three or four months later, and I remembered it and I painted it. The steeple is covered in clouds, but you know it’s there.”

She compares that canvas to her “St. Paul de Vence,” also a steeple in a French village. “The other has a lighter feeling, with more rural character. St. Paul is heavier, more a feeling of weight, maybe a Medieval influence — the weight of centuries.

Her “Balcony View at Santa Marguerita” has yet another feel, in dusty pinks and purples, representative of the Italian Mediterranean hillside scene. “I was fascinated with the architecture of the intersecting planes,” she says, “and the greenery, and the Bay of Ligery, and the serene and peaceful architecture. This was my feeling toward what I had seen.” She sketched the scene and noted the colors used to paint the houses. “The way the air hits it makes it lavender. They were wonderful colors. They make you smile. You see these wonderful shapes, and there’s a sense of well being. It’s been there forever.”

Sometimes she sees softness and pastels. “Sometimes I see jazz,” she says, pointing to a boldly colored, curvilinear “Still Life with Keyboard.” Sometimes she paints confrontational works, challenging the viewer.

Born in Cleveland, she attended Flora Stone Mather College (“the girls’ school”) at Case Western Reserve University, where she majored in psychology and minored in sociology, political science and mathematics.

She remains six units and a thesis away from her Ph.D. at UC Berkeley. “But what I really wanted was art, which I think is hilarious,” she says.

She studied art extensively throughout Europe and with faculty of the Cleveland Institute of Art and at UCLA. She has exhibited throughout Los Angeles and is a member of the Malibu Art Association.

To support herself, she worked as a technical librarian, setting up a research library at TRW. “I’d learn everything about the job, then I’d quit,” she says. “But always, at night and on the weekends, I painted and studied and worked and was involved in art.” So, in 1960, she asked herself, “If I had six months to live, what was I missing?” She went to Europe, “for as long as the money lasted,” and spent eight months painting and visiting museums.

Since then, and to this day, she has painted every day. It is important, she says, to devote one’s life to one’s art, to the exclusion of social activities, of anything in life that would take the artist away from art. She immerses herself in her studio from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., at a minimum. Sometimes neighbors see her lights on at midnight. “But I do try to make dinner for Ray.”

Ray Singer is the man she married, in 1961. He formerly supervised the art department at Hughes Research Laboratories and designed the original seal of the city of Malibu; he now serves as president of the Malibu Optimists. She continued with volunteer work, setting up a department of gerontology at Mount Sinai hospital, then writing operational manuals to transfer the department to Cedars of Lebanon. She also volunteered at Malibu’s first courthouse.

The Singers built their home at Las Tunas beach, designing the studio as the biggest room in the house. “It took me three years to do a seascape because I would go out on the deck and see the whole Pacific Ocean,” she says. “I see it completely differently. I did not want to do a traditional seascape.”

Singer is pleased to be on exhibit at the McLean Gallery. “I have not enjoyed working with any gallery more than I have enjoyed working with Denise,” she says. “There has to be mutual honesty and mutual respect. I think Malibu is very lucky to have this gallery here.

“Art is food for the soul — art and music and theater. I think people have to be reminded of this.”

In addition to Singer’s larger oil-on-canvas works, the exhibit includes three affordable oils-on-paper and several small India-ink drawings.

The paintings of Fay Singer remain on exhibit through Jan. 3 at McLean Gallery at the Malibu Country Mart. Tel. 456-2226.

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The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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